U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addressed attendees at the recent Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) Conference and Expo.
His comments covered a broad range of issues including tax reform, de-regulation, trade, food security, infrastructure, school lunches and the farm bill.
ARA broadcast his comments via Facebook Live.
Perdue, who noted his past experience in the fertilizer business and with ARA’s predecessor organization, the National Fertilizer Solutions Association, talked extensively about the tax reform bill currently under debate in the Senate. He encouraged those in the business of agriculture to contact their representatives in Washington, DC, to communicate their corporate and individual interests.
“Farming is a great lifestyle, but you don’t get to do it very long as a lifestyle if you don’t make money at it,” he said. “You need to speak through your associations, but you also need to speak independently. Talk to your members of Congress and let them know what’s on your mind. Weigh in on what you like about (the tax reform bill), what you don’t like about it.”
Perdue also reiterated his desire to improve the USDA.
“My goals is to be the most effective, the most efficient, the best run, the most customer focused agency in the federal government,” he said. “I want to be judged by you. We’re going to work every day with that goal in mind.”
The agency is realigning local offices to better serve farmers, according to Perdue.
“(Customers) shouldn’t have to go to different places or fill out different forms,” he said. “We’re trying to make it easier to serve our customers. We want to them to do business with us. Easier, faster, friendlier.”
Perdue also touched on infrastructure, noting investments on roads, rail and waterways, but also stressing the need for development of rural broadband to maximize technological innovations within agriculture. Precision agriculture depends on broadband everywhere, he said.
“Not only at the farmhouse, not only in the farm community, not only in town, but in the fields around America,” he said. “In order to use the technology, we’ve got to have broadband everywhere.”
His closing comments focused on the next farm bill, calling it an evolution, not revolution.
“You’re going to see a farm bill with a safety net balanced primarily by crop insurance,” he said. “We want a safety net that keeps people where they can do it again, but we don’t want farmers farming for the program. Your customers would much rather have a good crop at a fair price than any kind of government program.”
He asked for the input of ag retailers as the farm bill comes together.